I believe in Karma.
There are many times in my life that I could tell you about that makes me believe in the justice meted out by the universe, the cosmic 2×4 upside the head, the gotcha moment where human hubris and arrogance get their comeuppance. Here is one such Karma moment.
Between 2007 and 2008, I walked around the campus of my office each day at lunchtime with a woman I was mentoring. You learn a lot about a person when you walk with them. Our talks started out as a way to talk about issues she was dealing with at work and get in a bit of healthy exercise too. After a few months she moved on to a different department, but we continued to walk, and our talks grew more personal, with each of us relating stories of our past, our families, our tragedies, and our triumphs. My work friend talked a lot about her son, and how much he meant to her. He was the light of her life, the accomplishment she was most proud of, and the person in the world she loved most. It was a pleasant give and take, and we mostly spoke about benign, safe topics. That is, until Barack Obama became a candidate for President.
My political leanings are pretty centered. I am certainly not on the far end in either direction, and I am registered as an Independent (which by the way, I think everyone should do, but I will save my reasons for another time). I make a very determined effort to be educated and informed on the issues. I endeavor to obtain news and information from a variety of sources including scientific journals, scholarly opinion, books and lectures. In a democratic society, the important and complicated issues we wrestle with need a thoughtful and informed electorate. The ability to discuss moral and philosophical problems without rancor or hatred is essential, and I am a champion of Socratic method to foster critical thinking. I attempt to practice this in my daily life, and I feel pretty confident that I am balanced in my opinions.
During the time of these long walks, I worked as an executive in client management in the health insurance industry, an industry that is under continual attack from every side. To survive it was necessary that I had learned how to diffuse criticism, overcome obstacles, and take a punch. My walking partner on the other hand, I knew from our conversations to be less open to new ideas and less informed on the issues. She had told me that she got all her news from Fox, did not read much, and I had personally witnessed a high-pitched, uncontrolled alcohol-fueled screed advocating violence against Hillary Clinton at a company function.
I was a fan of Barack Obama’s from the very first time I heard him speak at the Democratic convention in 2004. I just really liked the man, and at the time, I harbored a deep hope that he would run for President some day. As our conversations turned political and we talked about the issues, she tried to replay the talking points she had heard on her news feed, but it became evident with some additional probing, that she did not truly understand most of it – whether it was the economy, civil rights, risks to the environment, constitutional law, the deficit, the national debt, Medicare, the VA, public education, the mortgage crisis, immigration, or the myriad of other news topics making the rounds at the time. Then – things started to get ugly.
I began receiving emails from her making claims about Obama’s “true” birth and his citizenship, his Kenyan father and his “true” religion, his secret affiliations with subversive elements, his community organizing activities, his unfitness to be president because he was black – allegedly because he could not represent ALL the people. Over time her statements became more and more vitriolic, and our walks ended in frustration for me as I attempted to rationally dispel her non-stop messages of disinformation.
Then, one day she made a very negative comment about some Mexican immigrants that had come into a thrift store where she sometimes shopped. Her comment had to do with how they couldn’t speak a word of English but could count out American money, and this somehow proved something nefarious about non-white people like Mexicans and Blacks. Her logic was so confused that I couldn’t even fathom a connection. I reminded her that I come from a diverse family of immigrants, including Mexican-Americans, and they are hard working, beautiful people. I attempted to relate her experience traveling to foreign countries to what she had experienced at the thrift store, explaining that she had learned to recognize and count the foreign money even though she could not speak the language. She mumbled a reticent, “I guess so,” and then went on to begin a new argument against Barack Obama about community activists and his ties to communism or socialism (she didn’t know the difference) and Islam.
And that’s when I threw up my hands and let nearly a year’s worth of pent up anger loose. I stopped walking and stared at her, standing stock-still, tallying up all the misinformation and lies that she had spouted during the year. I sadly told her the unvarnished reality in that moment of truth-telling, for in that year of walking and talking, I had learned that deep down this person embodied the worst hatreds in our nation, that of irrational, deep-seated racism and bigotry.
I went to the inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., and froze my ass off on that wind-swept day, and cried tears of joy for what we as a nation had achieved. I felt renewed as an American, the promise of our best intentions fulfilled, and prayed that, despite the fact that many people like her still existed in our country, that the voice of reason of the majority had prevailed and we had finally turned the corner in our bloodstained, bigoted history. As time went on, I would see her around the office but I said little outside of hello. Then one day she announced to everyone that her son was engaged. She came over to me and somewhat reticently showed me the picture of her son and his intended bride with a wide-eyed look of alarm.
She was black.